SPARKS, Nev. – He was dressed like any other student at Sparks Middle School: standard khaki pants and a Sparks sweatshirt. He was tall for a middle schooler, with dark, spiked hair, and in his hand early Monday was a Ruger 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun.
The boy pointed the gun at about 30 terrified students huddled in a corner near an outdoor school basketball court. He locked eyes with eighth-grader Omar Lopez, who was nearby.
"You guys ruined my life, so I’m going to ruin yours," the boy told the group, according to Omar.
The gunman fired – not at the students but at a window, shattering the glass with two quick shots, witnesses said. He moved on, but he had already shot and killed a popular math teacher and wounded a student.
The boy then wounded another student before he fatally shot himself in the head, police said.
A day later, students, parents and police were struggling to comprehend the motives of the shooter, whom police declined to identify. The boy apparently believed he had been bullied or taunted, according to students interviewed, but police said they could not confirm that.
When he said his life had been ruined, Omar said, "He looked like he was going to cry. He said it in an angry and crying voice."
Four students interviewed by The Times described a harrowing scene as they joined others seeking safety from gunshots outside the school building. The gunman ordered everyone to be quiet, they said.
"He aims the gun at us and says, 'You guys talking, you guys talking,'" said Antonio Ochoa, an eighth-grader.
Several students shouted "No, no, we’re not talking. We’re being quiet," Antonio said.
The students were trapped; they could not escape without crossing in front of the pointed gun.
"I was like, 'Please, don't,'" said Adrian Aguilera, an eighth-grader.
"I thought he was going to kill me," Omar recalled. "Because when he said, 'I’ll ruin yours,' in my mind that ran through my head and I thought, oh, by ruining my life he was just going to kill me."
Moments earlier, Antonio was 10 to 20 feet from the gunman when Michael Landsberry, a math teacher some students had nicknamed "Batman" for his love of the comic book character, raised his hands and tried to block the shooter's path.
"Mr. Landsberry, he came running up to the kid and he said, 'Put the gun down.' And by then I started running, and behind me I heard another shot."
Mike Mieras, chief of police at the Washoe County School District, told reporters Tuesday that Landsberry was shot in the chest after one student had been shot and wounded.
"Mr. Landsberry calmly walked toward the shooter, putting his hands up in a motion to try to stop the individual’s actions," Mieras said. "Mr. Landsberry’s heroic actions, by stepping toward the shooter, allowed time for other students on that playground area to flee."
Landsberry had served in the Marine Corps and was a Nevada National Guardsman.
"A person like Mr. Landsberry cannot be replaced," school Supt. Pedro Martinez said. "He was a beloved teacher and father, a great role model, and an even better person. He will not be forgotten. He is truly a hero."
Martinez added: "This is the action of one student. Let’s not forget it’s a tragedy for that family as well."
Sparks Deputy Police Chief Tom Miller said police were withholding the shooter’s identity "out of respect" for his family, which has cooperated with police.
Police said that the crime scene had expanded to include the shooter’s home and that there was a possibility his parents could face charges relating to the weapon.
Police emphasized that all shots fired Monday were outside the school and that the gunman never went inside. They said police officers did not fire their weapons.
Miller declined to answer questions about possible bullying of the shooter and said police did not know whether specific students were targeted.
"Everybody wants to know why. That's the big question," Miller said. "The answer is, we don’t know right now. We are proactively trying to determine why."
Mason reported from Nevada and Zucchino from North Carolina. Times staff writer Ari Bloomekatz in Los Angeles contributed to this report.